Author: brandon

November 1, 2006 / / Main Slate Archive

Written by Sean Rogers
Carl-Theodor Dreyer had not completed a feature film for over a decade when he undertook production on Day of Wrath; another decade would pass before he finished his next major feature. These long pauses in his career feel as loaded with ineffable significance as those in his films: small shifts in meaning and purpose seem to have occurred, but only in retrospect might we discover them. In 1932, Dreyer released Vampyr, a fever dream of a movie soaked through with the uncanny, while 1954 would see his Ordet, a film fundamentally concerned with faith. 1944’s Day of Wrath mingles the two modes. Less overtly weird than Vampyr, and having less to do with Ordet’s crises of faith than with faith’s very structures and strictures, Day of Wrath is a strange hybrid: a deceptively humdrum melodrama, insidiously inflected.

October 25, 2006 / / Main Slate Archive

Written by Paul Monticone

Although not programmed together in this series, Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi and citoyen du monde Max Ophuls share much in common. Both filmmakers were born at the turn of the century, and each died before he turned sixty, just as the international art cinema was entering its heyday. Each often worked in genres associated with women—Ophuls in the melodrama and Mizoguchi in its Japanese analogue, adaptations from shinpa theatre. Both filmmakers are regarded as mature, baroque artists, probably because they are known primarily through their late period films (in Mizoguchi’s case, the majority of his early work is lost), but both were active during the transition to talking pictures, making films when the vagaries of early synchronized sound briefly made the long take the art’s norm. Perhaps it was at this time that Mizoguchi and Ophuls developed an affinity for the device, which became a cornerstone in the distinctive and renowned style of each master. A series celebrating high-brow cinephilia—which Janus Films undeniably represents—is certainly occasion for a note that is purely formalist in its concerns, so, at the exclusion of their complex themes and fascinating biographies, I offer some notes on how we might value the contribution of Mizoguchi and Ophuls to the art form today.

September 29, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by David Kociemba

USA, 1941. 101 min. Warner Bros. Pictures. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook, Jr., Ward Bond. Music: Adolph Deutsch; Cinematography: Arthur Edeson; Production Design: Robert Haas; Produced by: Henry Blanke, Hal B. Wallis; Based on a Novel by: Dashiell Hammett; Written by: John Huston; Directed by: John Huston.

The pleasure of films noirs is in the active reading of them. We make our own way through these confusing, baroque worlds filled with existential crises. In navigating these rich swathes of word and shadow, we become like the private detective so often found in them: bewildered, besieged, and maybe even a bit enamored with the glorious crassness of it all. Those pleasures show up in the tradition of criticism around this… Well, that’s where the problems begin, really. What is this thing we call film noir?

September 25, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Kristoffer Tronerud

Italy, 1971. 130 min. Alfa Cinematografica/ Warner Bros. Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Bjørn Andresen, Marisa Berenson, Mark Burns. Music: Gustav Mahler; Cinematography: Pasqualino De Santis; Produced by: Luchino Visconti; Based on a Novella by: Thomas Mann; Written by: Luchino Visconti, Nicola Badalucco; Directed by: Luchino Visconti

“The artist is like a hunter in the dark”, bemoans Gustav, the tormented hero of Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice, “they know what their target is, but they don’t know if they’ve hit it!” While this is certainly true of Gustav, nothing could be less true of Luchino Visconti, a masterful commanding artist who knew exactly what he wanted, and, most often, got it. In the contemporaneous promotional short Visconti’s Venice, Dirk Bogarde, (who plays Gustav with a brave and ego-free poignancy) notes with amusement that “I provide the tracks, but Visconti brings the train.” Another, very different, Italian master, Sergio Leone, was speaking of himself, but might as well have been describing Visconti, when he said “It is essential that all the details seem right, never invented. A fairy tale captures the imagination most when the setting is as realistic as possible”. Visconti was the master of detail; engineering every visual touch, every texture, every last element of costuming, set design and prop placement (indeed, on Death, he seems even to have controlled the weather itself), so that by the time the shot is played out, his languid camera need only pass over the proceedings in a final masterful brush stroke to bring home the powerful truth of each passage of this magnificent fairy tale.

September 25, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Stuart Kurtz

USA, 1949. 73 min. RKO Radio Pictures. Cast: Bobby Driscoll, Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman. Music: Roy Webb; Cinematography: William Steiner; Art Direction: Albert D’Agostino; Produced by: Dore Shary; Based on a Story by: Cornell Woolrich; Written by: Mel Dinelli; Directed by: Ted Tetzlaff.

Films depicting children in adult predicaments intensify the sense of danger viewers feel because the idea of a child meeting a terrible end is unacceptable to us. We feel more than the average dread for the child, as we know grown-ups aren’t completely innocent. While children don’t always keep their noses clean either, the supposed innocence of childhood is enough to bring out the protective instinct in adults.

September 22, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Jason Haas

US, 1995. 129 min. Universal Pictures. Cast: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt; Music: Paul Buckmaster; Cinematography: Roger Pratt; Produced by: Charles Roven; Written by: David and Janet Peoples (from a film by Chris Marker); Directed by Terry Gilliam.

It’s almost precious to say of a time travel movie, but Twelve Monkeys was clearly ahead of its time. When it was released in the US at the tail end of 1995, the country was entering the election year that would lead to President Clinton’s second term and the economy was sky high. All of the problems that now dominate pretty much all of our discourse in this country were around but minor and mostly unnoticed, waiting to spring on the country as a post millennial surprise party of doom. Now, in 2006, right after the 5th anniversary of 9/11, a terrorist attack eliminating the majority of the Earth’s population and driving the rest underground seems a little bit more real. Or maybe it will be Avian Flu. The truth of the matter is that the last five or so years have given our day-to-day reality a much more apocalyptic flavor. So how, in the early days of the Internet boom and a mostly sunny security outlook, did Twelve Monkeys manage to acquire such apocalyptic trappings?

September 22, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Kristoffer Tronerud

USA, 1982. 129 min. UA/ Dino De Laurentiis Pictures. Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Mako; Music: Basil Poledouris; Cinematography: Duke Callaghan; Production Design: Ron Cobb; Based on Stories by: Robert Howard; Screenplay: Oliver Stone, John Milius; Directed by: Milius

“I’m a Zen Fascist” John Milius once famously remarked, and, while his tongue was firmly planted in cheek, that description goes a long way in explaining the unique appeal of this very talented and likable rogue artist. While it may take courage to be left of center in the country at large, in Hollywood, the conservative is the true maverick, and, as a director and screenwriter, Milius has paid a price for his cheerful unwillingness to toe a politically correct line for Tinseltown convenience. Still, it is a big mistake to paint Milius with the broad brush of the political simplemindedness of, say, a John Wayne or a Jack Webb. From the start of his career, Milius’s projects have evidenced a complexity and thoughtfulness that make such easy classification impossible. His work embraces the reality that men and women are different and that courage and violence are sometimes unavoidable and necessary, in a way that makes knee-jerk liberals uncomfortable, but his work also betrays a tenderness and respect for women and a keen sense of the limits of the macho ideal that give lie to the stereotype that generally accompanies any discussion of his oeuvre.

September 22, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Kris Tronerud

USA, 1951. 115 min. Philip Waxman Productions. Cast: John Barrymore, Jr., Preston Foster, Joan Lorring, Howard St. John, Dorothy Comingore; Cinematography: Hal Mohr; Produced by: Philip A. Waxman; Based on a Novel by: Stanley Ellin; Written by: Stanley Ellin, Joseph Losey, Ring Lardner, Jr.; Directed by: Joseph Losey

One of the greatest pleasures of being a movie nut is the re-discovery of those long gone, lovingly remembered films which appeared to us in our youth, before we knew we were ‘aficionados’, before we even knew why we loved movies, when our reactions were primal and unaffected by critical sensibilities or intellectual preconception. These films take root in our memories with the vivid resonance of a childhood friend. Sometimes, of course, the rediscovery is a painful disappointment, as we realize that our fond recollection was based primarly on the bust size of the heroine or on a fantasy landscape that now reveals itself to be composed of monsters in suits with visible zippers lurking in papier maché lairs. Every so often, however, a film reappears on the cinematic horizon and holds up admirably to viewing by now jaundiced and demanding eyes, revealing that it burrowed into our young psyches for deeper and more substantial reasons. For me, the reappearance of Joseph Losey’s The Big Night on TMC (and now in theaters) was just such a happy reunion.

August 28, 2006 / / Film Notes

(Mønti Pythøn ik den Høli Gräilen )

Written by Jill Silos. Jill Silos, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of History at Hesser College. In her spare time she volunteers with Confuse-a-Cat Ltd. and collects grail-shaped beacons. A moose once bit her sister. No, realli!
USA, 1975. 91 min. Python Pictures Ltd./ Michael White Productions. Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin; Animated Sequences: Terry Gilliam; Production Design: Roy Forge Smith; Produced by: Mark Forstater, Michael White; Written by: Monty Python; Directed by: Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam.

Monty Python is big business these days. In addition to all the calendars, key chains, refrigerator magnets, and stuffed killer bunnies with nasty, big, pointy teeth available at your local novelty store, the market-savvy Pythons have conquered the world of video games, websites, and now, the Great White Way with Eric Idle’s Tony-winning musical Spamalot. The once cult status of Python has given way to a media juggernaut, ensuring that even when Michael Palin travels the globe for the BBC and winds up in some remote village, someone will run up to him and say, “Ni!”

August 23, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Andy Dimond

UK, 1985. Rated R. 142 min Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm Michael Palin; Music: Kate Bush, Michael Kamen, Ray Cooper; Cinematography: Roger Pratt; Produced by: Patrick Cassavetti, Arnon Milchan; Written by: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown; Directed by: Terry Gilliam

“8:49p.m., somewhere in the twentieth century.” A meek Ministry of Information file clerk named Sam Lowry sits at his desk and daydreams. In his mind he is a winged knight, charging boldly to the rescue of a beautiful blonde. By the end of Terry Gilliam’s zany 1985 chef d’oeuvre he will find that damsel in “real life” — which here consists of vicious corporate politics, grotesque plastic surgeries, even more grotesque food, propaganda posters, and mountains of paperwork, all taking place under the constant threat of government-sponsored torture, and punctuated by the occasional terrorist bombing.